Harri Jones and Sam Shahin top the Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge timesheets at Sandown
Blustery grey skies greeted the Porsche Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge teams and drivers as they arrived at Sandown Raceway for the Friday practice sessions for Round 5 of the 2019 championship.
A new section of freshly laid asphalt on the infamous track saw drivers struggle for consistency in the day’s first session. Sonic Racing teammates Aaron Love and Max Vidau would set the early pace on their home circuit.
With 15mins left in the session, Vidau’s pace was electric and he held over a second advantage over the chasing Pro field. But as the session continued, the chasing drivers slowly came to grips with changeable surface.
The gap between Vidau and the pack shortened to only a tenth of a second by the end of the session with championship leader Harri Jones improving to second, followed by McElrea Racing teammate, Ryan Suhle.
Danny Stutterd set the early pace on his return to the TAG Heuer Pro-Am class, posting a time over a second clear of Sam Shahin in the early session, while David Greig held the early advantage in Class B.
Just as the times continued to fall through the day’s second practice, the session was red-flagged. The timesheets reaffirmed that 2019 will go down as one of the most competitive in Porsche Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge history. Vidau, Jones, Suhle and Love had all gone under the 2018 lap record time of 1:11.1226 – set by Vidau – in 2018. The four Michelin Juniors drivers also followed by TAG Heuer Pro-Am Championship leader, Sam Shahin in fifth.
The Bend Motorsport Park owner’s time was good enough to split the Pro field with a sizable 0,7sec gap to Stutterd and 0,9sec advantage over championship rival, Brett Boulton, heading into qualifying.
Andrew Goldie would also make his intentions clear finishing the day’s second session with a healthy advantage over Class B arch rival David Greig by the time the session was red-flagged – due to a turn 4 collision between Michel Hovey and Rob Woods.
Goldie’s fortunes would change in qualifying though. The West Australian out braked himself on his third flying lap skidding through the gravel trap into the fence at turn 1. This put pay not only to his session but brought out another red flag.
With 5 minutes remaining, the pace at the front of the field was intense. Vidau was first to post a time of 1:10.3259 – almost 0,8secs under his own lap record – only to topped by Harri Jones in the dying minutes. Vidau’s last lap edged him closer again to the top, but Jones too would improve his advantage again in the final minute, posting a blistering time of 1:10.0670.
After qualifying a relieved Jones said, “That was an awesome session, it was shortened due to a red flag but when we got back on track I decided not to mess around and get the job done. I left it to the dying moments to put in my best two laps, but I’m happy with the result and can’t wait for tomorrow.”
Jones and Vidau were followed by Suhle, Love, Pancione and Tom Taplin, with Sam Shahin lining up seventh overall – over 0.5secs faster than his nearest rival in the TAG Heuer Pro Am Class.
Shahin said, “The day started off very ordinary, I just couldn’t get a read on the car in P1. But P2 and qualifying was good and the track just kept getting better. It was a shame for the red flag, but I’m very happy and absolutely thrilled.”
Race 1 starts at 10:45 on Saturday and all three of the weekend’s races will be streamed live via www.thenationals.com.au website
Schedule – Round 5, Sandown Raceway
Saturday, 21 September
10:45-11:05: Race 1
15:05-15:25: Race 2
Sunday, 22 September
09:10-09:55: Race 3 (Jim Richards Endurance Trophy)